Tag: University Echo

First Friday

Written by Mark Drinkard

Once a month, art galleries across Chattanooga collectively open their doors to the public for special gallery showings. The event, coined “First Friday” allows local Chattanoogans and tourists to see new art pieces, mingle with artists, and support their local community.

One gallery spearheading the event in Chattanooga is Area 61. Keeli Crewe has been the curator of Area 61 since its inception in 2009. Crewe is the first face one will see when visiting Area 61, and it is clear from her vibrant smile that she is living her dream. 


Crewe has worked diligently to provide platforms to artists regardless of the medium. For her, art is at the heart of First Friday and operates  as a binder that connects people to the Chattanooga community. 

“I really hope it grows continually,” says Crewe “It helps the local economy. I always tell people when they come see me on First Friday who else is open, that way you can keep people hopping and keep them interested.” 

Katie Rogers stands in front of her new exhibit, “Bread, Bones & Stones”. Her work is heavily influenced by indigenous cultures and beadwork. Rogers has worked with jewelry and tapestries since her childhood. Photo taken on Nov. 5th, 2021 by Mark Drinkard.

First Friday not only  promotes local art, but it also encourages patrons to visit other local establishments. Crewe believes that when the arts are successful, all other communities should have a chance to thrive as well. 

That value of shared success is even more prevalent among the art galleries of Chattanooga. First Friday promotes competition in the arts, but it doesn’t stop galleries from supporting each other. 

The decades-long tradition has given galleries such as Northside Gallery, Bluffview Art District and In-Town Gallery the opportunity to form strong connections and open up a space of support. They will publicise events of other galleries and also encourage patrons to visit them on First Fridays. 

As support for local galleries grows, so does the appreciation of the individual artists that display their work. In-Town gallery has been an artist-owned and artist-managed gallery in Chattanooga for over 45 years. They operate as a true artists collective and place the power in the artists hands on how the gallery will run.

Roger Harvey works the lathe in his home studio. Harvey has been a member of In-Town Gallery for several years, and woodworking is his most recent passion. Photo taken on Nov. 14th by Mark Drinkard

One of their goals is cultivating appreciation for the individual artists of Chattanooga. The end result of a finished piece is admired and fawned over, but few people give credit to the process and work that goes on behind-the-scenes of these beautiful paintings, sculptures and tapestries. 

Jennie Kirkpatrick, an artist and partial-owner of In-Town, speaks on the trails that come with her work.

“It is hard. I know people that think its just a hobby. You go in and you just enjoy every minute and get rid of all your frustrations. No,That’s what you do when you’re a hobbyist. But if you’re trying to produce, it’s a problem. So it’s not really the way a lot of the public perceives it. It’s hard.” Said Kirkpatrick

The job of an artist is hard work. No one sees the work they put into a piece or the late nights that led to their breakthroughs. But on First Friday, all that hard work comes to fruition.


Mark Emanuel Drinkard is a Multimedia Producer currently attending the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga pursuing his BA in Communications. Drinkard specializes in videography and video editing. His passion for helping others drives his lens to frame the unnoticed voices of the community. This can be seen in stories such as “Legacy of Grief”, where Drinkard spent several weeks connecting with the McAllister family to tell their personal story of grief and loss. His work also extends to youth in need. In summer 2021 he worked as Photography Supervisor at a resident camp in Colorado, capturing timeless memories for the next generation. For business inquiries or any questions you can contact Mark Drinkard at markdrinkard2@gmail.com.Mark Emanuel Drinkard is a Multimedia Producer currently attending the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga pursuing his BA in Communications. Drinkard specializes in videography and video editing. His passion for helping others drives his lens to frame the unnoticed voices of the community. This can be seen in stories such as “Legacy of Grief”, where Drinkard spent several weeks connecting with the McAllister family to tell their personal story of grief and loss. His work also extends to youth in need. In summer 2021 he worked as Photography Supervisor at a resident camp in Colorado, capturing timeless memories for the next generation. For business inquiries or any questions you can contact Mark Drinkard at markdrinkard2@gmail.com.

Journey to Freedom

By Serretta Malaikham

Manichanh Sonexayarath feeds her husband Khampoon Sonexayarath. Manichanh became her husband’s sole caretaker after he suffered a stroke years prior. (Photo by Serretta Malaikham)

During the Cold War, my parents Manichanh and Khampoon Sonexayarath had chosen to flee their home in Laos, a country that was being treated as collateral damage. The country was neutral until it became a battleground between the United States and the Soviet Union. Today, Laos remains the most heavily bombed nation in history, with more bombs dropped there during the Cold War than all of World War II combined. 


Laos is a small landlocked country that is bordered by China, Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia, with the Mekong River flowing on the Western side. The larger countries that sought after Laos found interest in taking control due to the valuable trade route through Southeast Asia that the river provided. By 1975, about a tenth of the country’s population was dead, which equates to 200,000 people. Miraculously, my parents were amongst the few who managed to escape, leaving behind their friends, family, and the life they were beginning to build together. 

“I thought I was going to die,” said my mother, Manichanh Sonexayarath. “I didn’t think I was going to become a person. They were killing everyone from left to right.” 

Khampoon Sonexarath, 19, after graduating from the Royal Lao Airforce academy around 1975 as an airplane mechanic. (Courtesy of the Royal Lao Airforce)

Their journey began in the south of Laos, starting in a city called Pakxè. My father moved to the city after graduating from the Royal Lao Airforce academy as an airplane mechanic. There he met my mother and they got married after a few months of knowing each other. Shortly after, foreign invaders began to infiltrate the country, prompting their escape. 

They headed north towards Savannakhet through the countryside, traveling only at night to lower the risk of being seen. If the invaders were to catch them fleeing the country, they would be shot on sight.

The two traveled by either car or on foot, hiding in several different safe houses along the way until they got to Savannakhet. Once there, my parents met with a man who helped refugees get to Thailand on the other side of the Mekong River on his houseboat. 

Khampoon Sonexayarath, 64, sits in his home. Sonexayarath suffered from a stroke years prior which caused kidney damage. (Photo by Serretta Malaikham)

“I was crying and shaking so hard because the current was so bad,” said Manichanh Sonexayarath. “The water rose up and flowed so hard which caused tree branches to stick out from everywhere. I thought our boat was going to flood and sink.”

Fortunately they made it to the other side of the river where they were greeted by landscape workers, who gave them shelter for the night before taking them to the Thai Embassy. American soldiers were stationed at the embassy to help relocate refugees to the country of their choice. My parents were both infatuated with the idea of the “American Dream” and decided that was where they would go. 

They were sent to a refugee camp in Nashville, Tennessee where they were given housing and whatever support they needed in order to start their new lives. My parents spent about 10 years in refugee housing before they were able to save enough money to buy their own home. 

They are fearful of returning to Laos due to the possibility of my father being arrested for treason since he was a former soldier who chose to flee for the safety of his family. 

Khampoon Sonexayarath, Serretta Malaikham, and Manichanh Sonexayarath inside of the Wat Lao Buddharam temple located in Murfreesboro, Tenn. (Courtesy of Tommy Sonexayarath)

When asked, they both said they are extremely thankful to be in the United States. “Of course I think about Laos but I can’t go home,” said Manichanh Sonexayarath. “Now they are Communists. Everybody. I love it here in America so much.” `


Serretta Malaikham is a Senior Communications major at The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. She is passionate about photography and has worked as Assistant Photo Editor of the University Echo. She has a love of photography for its ability to capture life in its raw and pure essence, which is why she aspires to become a photojournalist after graduation. You can reach her at Serretta0930@yahoo.com.

Finding the Fire

Written by Olivia Ross

Founding members of the Ember Benders pose alongside fellow performers. Monday, November 15, 2021. (Photo by Olivia Ross)

People will spend a lifetime searching for that one thing that fuels their passion and lights a fire inside of them. For David Ayers and Farah Miller, founding members of the Ember Benders, fire was just that thing. 

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Chattanooga Creatives Strike Again

Written by: Madison Van Horn

Strike Chattanooga’s founders, Maggie Schut, Marli Geidt, and Carianna Hunter (left to right) celebrate the launch of Issue 02 of Strike Chattanooga. November 20,2021 (Photo By Madison Van Horn)
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The Field Below

Written by Jerrod Niles

Across the greater Chattanooga area lies fertile soil which farmers nurture to cultivate life. Their soil is the vehicle to meet many beyond their own sphere — even the art world.

Local Chattanooga artist Amanda Brazier has been painting solely with pigments pulled from soil for the past 14 years. Holly Martin, owner of Gaining Grounds Grocery saw the potential to connect Brazier’s unique art medium with her mission to create a sustainable grocery alternative for Chattanooga’s food desert. 

As soon as it was proposed to Brazier, she had an immediate and organic idea. “When [Martin] approached me about the idea of a mural connecting all these ideas, I mean it just came to me immediately.” 

Brazier knew she could take the soil from Chattanooga farmers and create a beautiful mural for the grocery store.

The idea was to create a mural that is made of pigments from local sources as well as farms that provide inventory to Gaining Grounds Grocery. Then began the rush to gather soil from Chattanooga farmers, community gardens and other local means.  Brazier and Martin gathered a list of over 10 farms that supply the store with their produce and took to the fields to gather soil.

Jars of Amanda Brazier’s homemade paint sit and settle at her studio. Saturday, September 11, 2021(Photo by Jerrod Niles)

Brazier interviewed the farmers about the history of the lands they work and what connects them to the soil under their fingernails.

“It’s a life blood. Without the soil and beautiful greenery and forage it provides, we wouldn’t be able to do what we do,” explains Mack Haynes of the Ocoee Creamery, one of the many farms Brazier visited.

Creating the paint for the mural was one of the toughest parts of the process. Brazier usually creates her paint to be water based, but needed to change her medium to fit the project. To create a durable and long-lasting mural, she chose to use acrylic paint.

“I’ve learned from this experience and most of what I’ve learned is that making acrylic paint from these soil pigments is tricky. Every dirt is different and requires lots of time to understand how much of each [ingredient] is required.”

To engage the community in this process, the first day of painting began with a community paint day at Gaining Grounds Grocery store. Many members of the local area joined and got the base layers on the mural laid down, but it left Brazierwith plenty of work to finish up in her studio. Luckily, she has two assistants and two bright-eyed sons to lend a hand.

Amanda Brazier creates paint from dirt for her next mural. Saturday, September 11, 2021 (Photo by Jerrod Niles)

With the mural finished, the final piece was revealed at Gaining Grounds Grocery. A reveal party was held at the Saint Andrews church where the grocery is located. Garnished with vegan foods and local dirt experts, the event was lively with new faces and like minded individuals. 

The two-piece mural project hangs currently in the entrance hall of Gaining Grounds Grocery and inside the store itself. Alongside the mural is a key that associates each paint color with the location of the dirt that created that pigment. 

The goal of The Field Below project was to connect the community with the local farmers that supply the grocery with produce. At the unveiling, community members, Brazier and the people who bring Gaining Grounds Grocery’s mission to life mingled and gathered to share a meal. 

This artistic rendition of the connection between community, agriculture, and food reignites the appreciation of the substance we all walk upon.


Jerod Niles is a multimedia producer who specializes in camera operation and post-production. Niles has over 5 years of experience in media production and is always looking towards the future. He is currently working on multiple freelance jobs as well as a media internship for Wanderlinger Brewery. You can find more of his work as well as contact information on his portfolio here: https://www.jerrodniles.com/

Behind the Masks

Written by Dave Whalen

Jessica Ann York looks out over the Tennessee River. Jessica was cosplaying as Hawks from the anime and manga series My Hero Academia. Tuesday, November 2, 2021 (Photo by Seth Carpenter)

All was well in Coolidge park as a band of cosplay superheroes patrolled to keep the peace. Should a villian arrive to foil the fun, could these three actually stop a catastrophe of epic proportions? Hopefully we’ll never find out, but they sure looked the part. 

Jora Burnett, Jessica York, and Mica Morgan are three friends who have been cosplaying together since 2019 here in Chattanooga. When they’re not maintaining their secret identities Morgan and Burnett being art teachers and York a writer who specializes in horror, these three come together after hours forming group cosplays stylizing their favorite characters.

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Friendly Neighborhood Fred

Written by Madison Van Horn

Fred Holland, A Chattanooga local smiles at the camera, showing off his F-shaped gold front tooth. Wednesday, October 20, 2020 (Photo by Maggie Weaver)

In the heart of Chattanooga, one man strives to create a safe and united community through spreading kindness, one yard at a time.

Fred Holland is a Chattanooga native who is known and loved by many in his neighborhood for always lending a helping hand. On any given day, you can expect to find Fred somewhere on Flynn Street or East 8th Street mowing his neighbors’ lawns free of charge, chatting with community members or volunteering at the Salvation Army. No matter what, Fred always boasts a smile on his face and love in his heart.

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Under the Hood of Chattanooga’s Car Community

Written by Rachel Jordan

Frank Zucchi and his co-driver race past the finish line with Charles Test close behind in their matching 1910 Nation race cars. Friday, October 15, 2021. (Photo by Jerrod Niles)

From growing up playing with Hot Wheels to owning your own hot-rod, the Chattanooga car community is a welcoming spot for all different types of car enthusiasts. Being so close to large cities like Atlanta, Knoxville, and Nashville, the car culture in Chattanooga has become a melting pot of these influences. The culture is diverse in many ways with different genres of car scenes, whether that’s the off-road, muscle or classic American. Chattanooga loves to blend different cultures and styles. 

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Alex Ogle: Sights Set High

Written by: Katie Haremski

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Alex Ogle makes a photo during her Echo photo assignment at Main X 24. Saturday, December 1, 2018. Photo by: Katie Haremski

UTC Communications and Psychology junior, Alex Ogle, has her sights set high as she approaches her last year of college. While a projection for early graduation came as a bit of a surprise, she couldn’t be more excited for what the future has in store. For many, college is a time of exploration of one’s self and Ogle is no exception from that. During her time in college she has explored several different paths specifically in the Communications Department.

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